In this article, I am going to examine the differences between the realities of one living with the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder and those whom we in the DID community call singletons. Also, using my own experiences in therapy, I’m going to talk about how I discovered this divergence and what had to occur to reconcile these differences.
Paula Had Her Work Cut Out for Her
When I first entered therapy, I had absolutely no clue that what I had always considered as “normal” would turn out to be just the opposite. It was only after speaking with my therapist, Paula, that I began to understand that my life and my reality were both different from the average persons.
For instance, I had no idea that others didn’t hear the voices of others speaking in their heads, or that people could feel alone. I didn’t know that other people didn’t experience losses of time, money or find clothes they didn’t remember buying in their closets. When others would accuse me of saying or doing things I didn’t remember, I thought I had a very poor memory or that they were lying.
It never occurred to me that I had alters and that all the above happenings were a direct result of the severe childhood trauma. Nor did I know those experiences had caused the development of dissociative identity disorder.
At least, not until I started seeing Paula. Boy, did she had her work cut out for her.
Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller
I often compare my therapy with Paula with the work Anne Sullivan did with Helen Keller. Although Helen had a glimpse of speech and understanding the meaning of words around age 2, she had lost her way in the darkness and silence that came upon her. Anne Sullivan had the training, but she found herself always having to work hard at finding new ways to adapt to Helen’s special needs.
Because of their work together, Helen Keller made her remarkable breakthrough, learned, went to college, and had a remarkable life. Without the dedication, training and determination of Anne Sullivan, the world would have never reaped the benefits of the brilliant mind of Helen Keller.
However, even after all her accomplishments, Helen still could not comprehend what red looked like, or what the sound of a song bird sounded like. She knew there was a color named red, and that song birds sang, but the beauty of red and the lilt of a bird singing were forever out of the reach if her understanding.
Like Helen Keller, I entered Paula’s office severely handicapped. Not only did I not understand that other people do not experience my realities, but I was missing vital pieces of information about the world.
Finding Out Things Weren’t Normal After All
I needed to learn and understand so many things. For instance, that people do not lock all the cabinets in their kitchen, their refrigerators or their freezers to keep the children out of them.
That sentence may seem cryptic, so let me explain.
My mother had a severe prescription drug addiction back in the early and mid- 1960’s and was usually passed out on our living room couch. This would leave myself and my brother who was three years younger than me to fend for ourselves.
Because we had to feed ourselves, my father was afraid we would eat the wrong things and die of poisoning. Instead of gathering all the poisonous things into one cabinet and locking them up, he put padlocks on all our kitchen cabinets and locks on our freezer and refrigerator.
This left my brother and I in a dire situation every other year, because dad was in the Navy and would be gone for eleven month stretches. This left my brother and I with no food and no way to get any. We had to resort to eating things from the yard, such as dandelions, clover, bitter sweet, and if we it was inter rocks.
Later, when we had grown, my family would sit around the Thanksgiving table laughing at what horrible children we must have been for dad to need to padlock the cabinets.
One day while in Paula’s office, I was laughing while relating the story we always told about the dinner table to her. She suddenly sat back in her chair with an appalled look on her face. I was confused by her reaction and asked her what was wrong. She sat back forward in her chair and made a statement that began my road to understanding my “normal” isn’t and wasn’t like everyone else’s.
“Shirley, have you ever been in a home other than that of your childhood, where all the cabinets in the kitchen were locked?”
My Normal Was and Is Messed Up
To be truthful, at first, I was furious at her. I just didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. It had been our fault for those cabinets being locked, after all, we were bad children.
But, after I had thought hard for a few days on her reaction and question, I had to answer, no.
At the next session, I asked her if her kids, who at the time were six and ten, ever ate plants from the yard. The look on her face of sheer horror told me all I needed to know. It was a horrendous revelation that I had spent at least my first seven years eating rocks and plants from the yard when my parents should have been taking care of me.
I had never thought my young life to have been abnormal, but I began to understand that my “normal” was messed up.
My “normal” and those of many who read this blog and live with the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, is skewed. “Normal” has been changed for us because we had to make up our own understanding of how the world works. We didn’t have a caregiver to explain kindly to us simple things about self-care and social norms that others take for granted.
Some of these for me included washing your hands after using the bathroom, brushing my teeth after eating, and how to have a proper conversation without taking it over.
Paula’s role of surrogate mother included teaching me these things, and much more. The everyday things that parents should teach their children about surviving and thriving in the world had to be modeled for me by a therapist.
Amnesia is a “normal” way of life for me as well. It isn’t dissociation I’m talking about, I mean allowing information to pass over me without consolidating it to my long-term memory. I know where this behavior began and why, what I don’t know is how to stop doing it.
One example is being told something important, but because I’m triggered in the environment in which I’m told, it is not processed and stored in my memory. It also happens with small things, such as names and short events. This amnesia is highly frustrating.
Unlearning and Learning at the Same Time
I mentioned in the opening sentence that I would speak on how Paula and I worked to overcome these impediments, so I’ll try.
Learning the social norms isn’t that difficult, it’s learning how to exist as a multiple in a singletons world that’s what’s brutal.
Before I could do anything, I had to recognize and understand all the way through, that whatever any of my alters do we are ALL totally responsible for. Singletons aren’t going to understand nor accept the ongoing argument that can occur within a multiple system that “she did it” or “he did it”, they will just see one person who did something wrong. If that is something illegal, then the entire system could go to jail, or worse, to prison.
The first stage in doing this very difficult task was to understand something very important. My alters are not other people who maliciously take over my body for their own ends. They are bits of me, and what they are doing is what I want to do.
I’ll illustrate what I’m blabbering about. When Bianca spends money that the budget does not have, it isn’t because she wants to be malicious. This happens because I or someone else in my system expresses they wish they could have something.
Bianca is my uninhibited-self who will break all social norms to get what she perceives as a need fulfilled. So, she might sign me up for a credit card and buy something that she sees is necessary but was just an expression from someone of a wish.
It took a lot of time and patience, but finally I think Bianca (who is me) understands that paying for things with a credit card when there is no money to pay it off is not only wrong, but illegal. She knows I respect her very much, and that I love her. I always a lot $30 per month to her to spend on anything she wishes, so long as it is not illegal, booze, or pornography (she is 18 so these limitations are reasonable).
By showing love, understanding, acceptance and love to Bianca, I am doing so to myself. I no longer fear my alters like I did in the beginning, we are one unit. We have become masterpiece, painted in time and patience with the help of a wonderful therapist.
After all, we are going to be together for the entirety of our lives.
What Would or Could I Change?
There is one last important lesson I learned from Paula that I wish to share with you about “normal being in the eye of the beholder”.
Remember even though our “normal” is out of whack with everyone else’s we can live long, and happy lives.
So what if we have a strange ways of experiencing the world, that just proves we are unique.
Not only that, but this difference makes us very important to humanity. Most people living with DID are highly intelligent, passionate and caring human beings. We bring a fresh way of living to a world that is tired of existing the way they do. That’s why so many want to have DID, they see our existence as something to treasure and to dream about.
You and I know and understand that for the world to think that dissociative identity disorder is something to desire is ludicrous. However, that shows how much value we are to humanity. We think outside the box, and experience life in, if you will pardon the pun, a multiple of ways.
So, what would I change?
Would I go back to my childhood and allow the abuse of myself that caused DID to form?
Oh, hell no.
Would I want to change who I am, so I could become a “singleton”?
No, not that either.
Although facing my childhood and working for years with Paula to understand what other humans take for granted, I am content just being me. I have learned that desiring to be someone I am not is fruitless.
Time Only Passes One Direction, Into the Future
But perhaps more importantly, by accepting my past as it is, I have learned that I cannot change my past, ever. Never. Not ever. It is fixed in time and irreversible.
What I can do is to concentrate on today and the ways I can help others who are struggling to come to the freedoms I have earned. That’s why I’m so vocal in my writing, I do it because I am passionate about giving hope to you.
Do I still have days after thirty years in therapy where I feel anger at those who did not protect me and teach me the things I needed to know? Do I still have days where I feel I can’t get out of bed because of the fatigue of being a multiple?
Yes, but I know that I will feel better and that life, with all its turmoil, is beautiful and worth living.
Writing these blog posts helps me perhaps more than it does you. No, I’m not rich by the way society looks at wealth, but it feels wonderful to get comments and likes from you telling me you were helped by something I’ve written.
I want you to remember this last sentence, because it is an honest one. No head games, no strings attached.
You mean the world to me, don’t ever forget that.
“Believe in your dreams. Believe in today. Believe that you are loved. Believe that you make a difference. Believe we can build a better world. Believe when others might not. Believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Believe that you might be that light for someone else. Believe that the best is yet to be. Believe in each other. Believe in yourself. I believe in you.” Kobi Yamada